THE BLOG
01/21/2014 08:31 am ET Updated Mar 23, 2014

What We Learned in Minnesota

Thank goodness the Minnesota Orchestra lockout is over.

As many commentators have pointed out, now the hard work begins. After 15 months, the orchestra musicians now have to get back to their real business of making music. Staff has to confirm soloists and conductors, sell tickets, raise money, etc. But a great deal of healing must also take place; one knows there must be many hurt feelings on both sides and probably will be for months and even years to come. A serious effort must be made to woo back the board members and major donors who stood firm in their conviction that the orchestra needed to reduce musicians' salaries by $5 million and did not see this result achieved. And management must rebuild relationships with musicians who face a substantial cut to their wages after 15 months of only freelance employment. We can all be happy the lockout is over but only a few will truly be celebrating.

But the hard work also belongs to any of us who care about the future of American orchestras and all American arts institutions. The board of the Minnesota Orchestra is not the first, and will not be the last, to attempt to cut costs dramatically by cutting artists' salaries. There have already been attempts in a number of cities and I expect there to be many more in the next decade or two.

We need to learn from the mess of these past 15 months and determine what to do and what not to do in the future. A few preliminary thoughts:

• While economizing is essential in the arts, one can rarely save ones way to health. One can only cut so much before an institution becomes irrelevant. Although a portion of a sustained deficit can be addressed with cost cutting, it is more important to address revenue growth in a realistic, focused manner.

• It is not helpful to demonize the other side when management and labor have a serious disagreement. The crucial healing process is made so much more difficult when board and management disparage the musicians and the musicians attack the motives of the board and management. How does one go back to fundraising for musicians one just attacked and how does one ask for money from board members one just deemed villains?

• Don't assume that union artists will cave easily. They won't. They have many, many friends who provide opportunities to survive during a lockout or strike. And while the problems of an arts organization may concern board members deeply, they rarely matter to them as much as they do to the artists for whom the institution is a livelihood and a way of life.

• Communicate with your musicians all the time, not just during negotiations. There should be an on-going, open and honest discussion among management, board and artists about the state of the organization and the industry. It should not be a surprise when a budget has to be re-shaped.

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